When her granddaughter was accepted to Naropa University, the celebrated author Pema Chödrön promised that she’d speak at the commencement ceremony. Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better contains the wisdom shared on that day.
So when Naropa asked me for the topic of my talk, I decided not to give it to them because I thought if I did, they wouldn’t let me do it!
My talk is inspired by a quote from Samuel Beckett that goes likes this. He knew something about waiting with no note cards!
The quote is ‘Fail. Fail again. Fail better.’
The fine art of failing
I thought if there is one skill that is not stressed very much, but is really needed, it is knowing how to fail well.
There is a lot of emphasis on succeeding. And whether we buy the hype or not, we all want to succeed, especially if you consider success as ‘it works out the way I want it to.’ You know it feels good in the gut and in the heart because it worked out. So failing by that definition is that it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to.
And failing is what we don’t usually get a lot of preparation for.
The rawness of things
I think in college or university, if there is one thing that prepares you for having some idea of how to work with the rawness of things not working out the way you want them to, it would be contemplative education.
As I listened to all the other speakers, it reinforced what I already thought was true, which is that you have gotten a lot of instruction and encouragement and support for feeling how things impact you and not just going down the tubes with it, but actually taking responsability for what is happening to you and having some tools about how to work with painful feelings, raw feelings.
So fail, fail again, fail better. It’s like how to get good at holding the rawness of vulnerability in your heart.
Or how to get good at ‘welcoming the unwelcome’. That is a quote from the founder of Passage works, which brings contemplative education into elementary schools.